PhD candidate Vaishali Kushwaha started her academic journey as a a civil and environmental engineer. But as her interest in the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues evolved from micro to macro, she transitioned into the public policy and administration realms. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, a Master of Science in Environmental and Civil Engineering, and a Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy. After working in Singapore, India and the United States and obtaining insights on the ways society and the government perceive and respond to environmental issues, Vaishali decided to culminate her academic journey with a PhD in Law and Public Policy from Northeastern University.
“Although the formal education has given me the knowledge, tools and skills to understand, analyze and solve problems, it is the extensive experience between the degrees that introduced me to the ground realities, challenges and complexities. My decade-long experience spans across academia, think tanks and NGOs, focusing on environmental and developmental challenges in Asian cities.”
While working on urban and environmental challenges faced by Asian countries, Vaishali realized that most urban planning literature and sustainable development practices emerge from the developed and western world. But challenges facing developing countries are far more complex and contextually different from the ones faced historically by developed countries. Vaishali, therefore, decided to pursue doctoral studies in law and public policy with a focus on developing countries in Asia.
“I chose the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University because it is one of the few places that offer the interdisciplinary and tailored PhD program I was seeking. SPPUA’s breadth of courses, faculty expertise, and focus on experiential learning perfectly align with my academic and professional journey.”
“I used the PhD coursework requirement to learn a multitude of skills and acquire knowledge. But the course that stood out to me is ‘PPUA 5262 Big Data for Cities’ primarily because it introduced me to the young field of urban informatics and provided me the opportunity to explore Boston through its administrative data.”
Vaishali refined the final project she completed for the “Big Data for Cities” course and presented it at the 2017 American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting.
Her paper was focused on developing frameworks for residential energy efficiency assessment using tax assessors data from the City of Boston.
Vaishali is part of a team of researchers from the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs working on the Resilience Governance Project, which aims to assess metro Boston’s interdependent energy and transportation sectors to identify a governance framework that would enhance resilience and regional institutional coordination. They are focusing on the study of stakeholder collaboration and resilience governance structure using Social Network Analysis.
According to Vaishali, she took several courses at Northeastern that helped her acquire the skills needed to complete this project, including “POLS 7704 Critical Infrastructure Resilience,” “PPUA 7346 Resilient Cities” and “Network Analysis.”
“The stakeholder workshops, interviews and survey conducted as part of this project provided me the opportunity to understand the existing protocol and on-ground challenges that organizations face during an emergency.”
“The experiential aspect of my degree has given me the opportunity to apply the classroom knowledge of infrastructure resilience, social capital and network science to address a real-world challenge raised by climate change. This ability to apply knowledge, learn from real-life challenges and network with public officials has honed my skills for becoming a good decision-maker.”
As of Fall 2017, Vaishali has been working on a research proposal for her dissertation. Her goal is to develop data driven and evidence-based solutions to pressing urban developmental and environmental challenges.
“Though I am open to both academic and non-academic opportunities in the future, I strongly believe in applicability of research. Hence, I hope I can influence the decision-making process and policies in cities.”